Sunday 3 December 2006
I tried to watch 8½ [Fellini] again last night, but fell asleep at 2am, before it was over. I should have started earlier. Fellini portrays home, this is home, a most magnificent idea of what home can be, in the memory. In a wonderful dream sequence, he presents home as a white towel, the towel you were caught up in after you wriggled and ran from your mother. The warm white towel she caught you in after dipping you in the warm bath. That towelsheet that stretched like a blanket around you and bundled you upstairs to the room with all those children jumping in their beds begging for a goodnight kiss.
Terry Gilliam points out 8½ as a film that conveys "the essence of cinema," a film that couples camera and actor in a dance of life and creativity. "Most people want to think life has got some structure, form and that you can distinguish the past from the future, and the present. I don't think it's true, I think Fellini admits to that and allows all of these things to enter into the process." Nostalgia, perhaps it is the inability to distinguish past from future, how both ends of your life feel together, all mixed up in today. Saudade.
This is the first of many weeks I am at liberty to write, wish to write. My hands are again able to work a pen. My paper, dry, to receive the ink. I have a fresh set of poets today. Dahlia Ravikovitch, Amy Lowell, Wallace Steven, Thomas Transtromer, Major Jackson, Klaus Hoeke, W.H. Auden, Richard Hugo, Dunya Mikhail and Mary Oliver. As I offer these treasures to my public, as they are handed back to me, as we discuss their value, a theme emerges. The struggle between sacred and profane, the tension between order and chaos, between freedom and servitude, East and West.
THE SEA PAINTS IN SILVER
Two weeks ago, Stefan brought a Russian poem to share with me. This time, a poem by Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov. Stefan read first in Russian, then in English, as he did with the Pushkin before. I was grateful for this, as was Susan, who was also receiving the news here in The Theatre of the Tulip Trees, here beside the lake.
Now, two weeks later, as I share Amy Lowell's "Venetian Glass" with my visitors, I am drawn to compare it with the Lermontov poem Stefan brought. Both poems present a little sailboat upon a vast sea. For one, the tempest beckons. For the other, bells call it home.
M. YU. LERMONTOV (1814-1841)
The sail is whitening alone
In blue obscurity of sea:
What did it leave in country own?
What does it want so far to see.
The wind is strong, the mast is creaking,
The wave is playing with the wave ...
But not a fortune is it seeking,
Nor from this fortune is its way.
By it a stream is bright as azure,
By beams of sun it's warmed and blessed
But it is seeking gales as treasure,
As if the tempests give a rest.
Translated from Russian by Yevgeny Bonver, 1990
AMY LOWELL (1874-1925)
from "A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass"
As one who sails upon a wide, blue sea
Far out of sight of land, his mind intent
Upon the sailing of his little boat,
On tightening ropes and shaping fair his course,
Hears suddenly, across the restless sea,
The rhythmic striking of some towered clock,
And wakes from thoughtless idleness to time:
Time, the slow pulse which beats eternity!
So through the vacancy of busy life
At intervals you cross my path and bring
The deep solemnity of passing years.
For you I have shed bitter tears, for you
I have relinquished that for which my heart
Cried out in selfish longing. And to-night
Having just left you, I can say: "'T is well.
Thank God that I have known a soul so true,
So nobly just, so worthy to be loved!"
What drives Lermontov's boat? What directs it through the sea? Is it God, a godlike figure, that treasured gale, that tempest offering "rest" from obscurity? The divine is surely evidenced in Lermontov's poem, "by beams of sun it's warmed and blessed." The sail, "whitening alone," seems blessed, seems directed by a compassionate God.
Ah, but the sailboat on the horizon, the symbol of freedom! It turns out to be, in Lowell's poem, a lost sheep, a prodigal son of the sea, shaping an errant course through a vacant life, wasting time and resources.
The sea, as it is in much of our literature, is a Godless lawless place. Uncaring. Nature may rise up to swallow us at any moment. Uneven in temper, now raging, now sleeping. Who would venture into such a world but the sailor as hero, adventurer and pirate? Who would dare go but the loner and emigre who has nothing to lose?
The sea, in presenting itself as escape, constitutes a shirking of duties, and yet we need the sea and the sailboat upon it to broker new territories, to trade and transport goods. The sea fills our imaginations with fear and hope. No, we cannot do without the sea.
For Lowell, the little sailboat does idle work, drifts and glides, a sleeping mind on a selfish course. The bells, "Thank God," wake the idiot sailor with their "rhythmic striking," calling the sailor back to the path, to "the deep solemnity of passing years," to meaning and nobility. To faith and family, to our own noble history.
The ordering of the public by the ringing of bells was started by the Benedictine monks in the 6th century. Bells once marked the beginning and end of all daily activity, meals, prayer, work and sleep. Once Captain Clock took over, the sun and the moon fell to the side. No more would our stomach direct us to hunger or thirst. No more would a miracle or instances of beauty motivate our reverence. The chiming of the bell would give us cause to eat and pray, wake and work.
In an act of what Jay Gritths (author of Pip, Pip: A Sideways Look at Time, Flamingo, 1999) would call "articulate vandalism," we see in Lowell's "Venetian Glass," "the slow pulse which beats eternity" pull the sailor from a wide, blue sea through time to the soulful life. "Thank God," you say? No, no, thank Captain Clock.
I am wearing a blue artist's beret borrowed from the PCC lost & found. I am wearing fingerless pullback mittens. It is not raining. It is cool and humid, but not raining and not expected to rain. I am able to work, with my own hands, the pen, to write and turn pages. The ink is happy to go where I tell it to go and the corners of my pages do not tear away.
This is week 31 of my project. 30 more weeks until its completion in July 2007. With 21 weeks of Sundays already completed, with 21 weeks already of searching for home, surely I have determined something? What work have I achieved in my goal to play poet, to place the poet on the path to the spirit, the spiritual home, how have I involved the public in the poet's search for things?
Last week there was a breakthrough in Sherwood. I was able to step back and watch poetry work its magic. The dialogue I began carried on without me. I was no longer necessary for the conversation. This is the goal. To throw a stone that will send an idea, a line, a circle spreading, perpetuating, greeting and crossing the other circles. This is a major milestone. Real progress in the work we must do to bring poets into the world, bring their voices to the public.
All by itself, poetry in the forest drew in the eyes and bodies and minds of the Circlers. The visitors. The wanderers. Charged with an idea. A thought. A new path.
I sensed something last week. Something close to, dare I say it, home. Just a feeling. But a growing feeling. Despite my wishes not to have this be my home. Green Lake was simply the right place, the most public place in Seattle. The obvious place to reach an audience. It was never home. Only platform, stage, conduit.
No, I sensed something real last week, as friends visited. As we huddled in the rain and snow, making our small circles, passing food and hot drinks, making laughter about things we'd experienced.
Understanding the trees, the way the rain moves through wind, the way temperature and moisture make snow.
What do we know about home, the search for home? Home and the flight? Mary Oliver tells us the world is calling to us. If we can learn to see the world, hear it and sense it, we will learn our place in the world, our place "in the family of things." And that place, that very knowing, is what situates us, places us.
Knowing can fix a wanderer, call a body, no matter where it wanders, home. Because the body is home. Must be home. The connected you, the familiar you, the communal you, tied to the world, to the place you are, the place you were born, the places you will go. The bodies around you, by which I mean the ones who affect you, the ones who drive your diet and thoughts, those who form myth, the ones who wake and sleep beside you, they are also home. They are all home.
Recognizing your place is the most significant step in the search for home. The rest is all longing and yearning, calling out for answers.
What motivates you? Security, reward, beauty? The question why? The question who? What depresses you? The knowledge that things change, the knowledge that things do not change? What calls to you? Things you understand, things you do not understand? Where do you spend your time? On yourself, on others?
A LESSON IN SLOWING TIME
1. Think of a new ritual and enact it.
2. Sing the names of every person you know.
3. Sketch two things every day.
4. Walk backwards up a flight of stairs.
5. Stay up all night. Experience the next day sleep-deprived.
6. Take out a piece of paper. Hold a pen above it. Think of one perfect sentence.
7. Stand in line at the post office with nothing to distract you.
8. Walk until your legs hurt.
9. Sit on a bench in a busy museum. Wait for an unobstructed view of your favorite piece. Savor it.
10. Walk into a dark room at night. Wait for your eyes to adjust. Spend time moving around the room.
There are no yellow leaves in the grass today. Nothing red has been left. The grass is scattered with brown now. The field daisies are tattered.
IT MUST BE POETRY
Paul gave me a pin that says "poetry." It is the Japanese figure for poetry. It means "word temple". He suggests that, in the future, our news and history must be carried through poetry. We simply do not have time to ingest everything, to tell everything. Poetry can be, must be, relied upon to bring whole histories in verse.
Paul recited from memory Lawrence Ferlinghtetti’s poem 15, "Where beauty stands and waits with gravity to start her death defying leap and he, a little Charlie Chaplan man, who may or may not catch her fair eternal form, spread eagle in the empty air of existence…" from A Coney Island of the Mind